Finding the Way In (meditating on the Mekong)

Early morning on the Mekong

Sometimes all it takes is one sentence.

It might seem a bit extreme to travel from Sydney to Luang Prabang in Laos, via Hanoi to hear that one sentence, but when you’re feeling lost, extreme measures might be just what you need.

So, I’d written a first draft, 105 ,213 words. I’d received very exciting feedback and some suggestions for a rewrite. Shouldn’t be too difficult to launch into the second draft then, you’d think. Except I was completely lost. I needed to lose 20,000 words. But which words? I also needed to add some flesh to a couple of the characters, put a couple of new scenes in, possibly rethink the first three chapters. All I could do was look at the 105, 213 words, printed, bound sitting on my desk weighing me down like the stones in Virginia’s Woolf’s pockets.

I packed my manuscript, notebooks and startled bunny look and headed off for a writers’ lab on the banks of the Mekong in Luang Prabang. And joined a group of five other women who are all working on some fabulous creative pieces. All understood the challenges of the creative process, the grappling with words, structure, ideas, self-doubt and criticism. It was an extraordinarily supportive and freeing group.

Writing in Luang Prabang

Every morning we sat through a guided meditation, from Jan Cornall, and were then free to write, or wander, or cry or a combination of all three.The meditations are a very powerful tool, helping you create a visual image, a jumping off point into the deep end of ideas and character. At the end of the meditation, picking up your pen and writing is the most natural step and it’s amazing how the words flow. And it’s not just the saffron-robed influence of chanting, drumming monks in the pre-dawn.

Heading Home

In the late afternoons, we would come together as a group, read, unload, and receive feedback. It was during one of these sessions that I heard the one sentence I needed to hear. My light bulb moment. One of my fellow writers has a four book deal (yes that’s right – four books!), two of which are published and she is making good progress on the third. Her advice and experience for a novice like myself, was invaluable. Over a Kir at the French bistro, L’Elephant, she said, ‘Just go through the manuscript and get rid of any unnecessary words. That’s your second draft. Then you’ll be ready to make the third draft sing.’

Sunrise over Luang Prabang

‘Just get rid of any unnecessary words.’ I can do that. I’d found my way in.

Sunset on the Mekong

It was worth every cent in airfares, hotel accommodation, shopping and eating out in French bistros to hear that one sentence.

And more than that, I have deepened existing relationships and formed new ones. And I have stood on the back of an elephant in the Nam Khan river…. but more of that later.